keyboard_arrow_uptop

Indians/Cubs

For the first time since October 10, 1945–when Hall of Famers Hank Greenberg and Hal Newhouser blew out the Cubs in the deciding seventh game–Wrigley Field will be home to a World Series game. Three of them, in fact, as a weekend full of baseball in Chicago kicks off tonight. Tickets are still available, assuming you're willing to sell your first born, ink a deal with the devil, and stand for nine innings next to some other crazed and significantly less financially stable Cubs fans. It'll be an amazing environment.

Jake Arrieta vs. Trevor Bauer in Game 2 was certainly a pitching mismatch, but nothing highlights this series’ disparity in rotation depth and quality quite like Game 3: Chicago trots out the National League ERA champion to face Cleveland’s soft-tossing 32-year-old with a 4.58 career ERA.

Kyle Hendricks is hardly a flame-thrower, even relative to Josh Tomlin, but the different between them is “control” vs. “command.” Tomlin throws everything over the plate, avoiding walks and forcing hitters to put the ball in play, whereas Hendricks throws strikes and locates most pitches exactly where he wants them. Both pitchers have excellent walk rates, but Hendricks struck out 40 percent more batters and gave up half as many home runs. From a distance they may appear to be made from the same mold, but Hendricks is the premium version and is especially dangerous with the Cubs’ excellent defense behind him.

Of course, if Terry Francona treats Tomlin as merely the appetizer to the bullpen entrée, his goal becomes simply avoiding a blowup in the first 4-5 innings and whether he can navigate through the Cubs’ lineup three times is a non-issue. Tomlin has been more effective than expected in the postseason so far, relying on his curveball more than usual, but in the regular season he served up 36 homers in 174 innings. Grinding out long counts against Tomlin won’t work, which takes away one of the Cubs’ biggest strengths, but he’s so hittable that swinging away is a fine option.

Cleveland Indians (Josh Tomlin) at Chicago Cubs (Kyle Hendricks), 8:00 PM ET

PECOTA odds of winning: 64% Cubs, 36% Indians

Projected Starting Lineups

Indians vs. Hendricks (R)

Cubs vs. Tomlin (R)

Carlos Santana (S), LF

Dexter Fowler (S), CF

Jason Kipnis (L), 2B

Kris Bryant (R), 3B

Francisco Lindor (S), SS

Anthony Rizzo (L), 1B

Mike Napoli (R), 1B

Ben Zobrist (S), LF

Jose Ramirez (S), 3B

Willson Contreras (R), C

Lonnie Chisenhall (L), RF

Jorge Soler (R), RF

Roberto Perez (R), C

Javier Baez (R), 2B

Tyler Naquin (L), CF

Addison Russell (R), SS

Josh Tomlin (R), P

Kyle Hendricks (R), P

Injuries/Availability

Kyle Schwarber was not medically cleared to play defense, so he’ll begin Game 3 on the bench after starting at designated hitter in the first two games of the series. Schwarber currently has the highest OPS (1.274) in postseason history among hitters with 40 or more plate appearances, so the Cubs would obviously love to have his bat in the lineup for nine innings, but given how shaky he looked in left field before blowing out his knee it’s possible saving him for a high-leverage pinch-hitting appearance makes the most sense anyway.

Tomlin had reverse platoon splits this season and Jason Heyward has looked terrible all season, which explains why Jorge Soler is starting in right field despite being 0-for-10 in the postseason. Maddon is banking on him taking Tomlin deep. Along with Willson Contreras getting the nod over Miguel Montero behind the plate, the bottom half of the Cubs' lineup (plus the pitcher) is all right-handed hitters.

Carlos Santana figures to be even worse than Schwarber defensively in left field given that he’s primarily a designated hitter and has played all of four career innings in the outfield, but there are no medical issues involved—it’s simply a matter of Francona wanting the switch-hitting slugger in the lineup enough to live with the defensive unknown. It’ll look brilliant if Santana has a big game at the plate and silly if he misplays a ball or two in the outfield, which is the type of decision National League rules force on an American League team.

Francona has already announced that he’ll bring back Game 1 starter Corey Kluber on short rest for Game 4, which means Danny Salazar looms as a bullpen option tonight and could get an early call if Tomlin is in trouble. Andrew Miller and Cody Allen have had back-to-back days off, a rarity in these playoffs, so expect Francona to be his usual ultra-aggressive self turning to relievers, particularly with Kluber waiting in the wings for Game 4.

Outlook

PECOTA has the Cubs as big favorites, which is basically always going to be the case in this series unless Kluber is on the mound for the Indians. Chicago has big edges in starting pitching, pinch-hitting options, and defense, with the latter potentially sinking Cleveland if Santana is asked to do much. But as always, if the Indians can avoid big mistakes early and turn things over to the bullpen—which now has Salazar in addition to the usual Miller-Allen-Bryan Shaw trio—the tables can turn in a hurry.